THE FOUR LAST THINGS ---- DEATH, JUDGMENT, HELL and HEAVEN
FATHER MARTIN VON COCHEM, O.S.F.C.
Father Martin von Cochem was born at Cochem, on the Moselle,
in the year 1625, and died at Waghausel in 1712.
“Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.”
HOLY REDEEMER LIBRARY
Nihil Obstat: Thomas L Kinkead, Censor Liborium
Imprimatur: Michael Augustine --- Archbishop of New York (New York October 5, 1899)
Copyright, 1899, by Benziger Brothers
PART IV. ON HEAVEN.
I. On the Nature of Heaven.
WE must not, as some do, picture to ourselves Heaven as a purely spiritual realm. For Heaven is a definite place, where not only God is, and the Angels now are, but where Christ is also in His sacred humanity, and Our Lady with her human body. There, too, all the blessed will dwell with their glorified bodies after the Last Judgment. If Heaven is a definite locality, it must accordingly be a visible, not a spiritual kingdom ; for a place must in its nature be to some extent conformable to those who abide in it.
Besides, we know that after the Last Judgment he Saints will behold Heaven with their bodily eyes, and consequently it must be a visible kingdom. We are ignorant of what the material structure of Heaven will be composed, we only know that it will be something infinitely superior to and more costly than the matter of which the other spheres, the sun, the moon, and other heavenly bodies, are formed.
For since God has created Heaven for Himself and for His elect, He has made it so beautiful and so glorious that the blessed will never tire of the contemplation of its splendours to all eternity.
Yet, I repeat, it is not within the power of the writer to describe, nor within that of the reader to comprehend, what it is of which Heaven is actually composed. Something may perhaps be learned concerning this from what St. Teresa writes. Speaking of herself, she says : " The Blessed Mother of God gave me a jewel, and hung around my neck a superb golden chain, to which a cross of priceless value was attached. Both the gold and the precious stones thus given to me are so unlike those which we have here in this world that no comparison can be instituted between them. They are beautiful beyond anything that can be conceived, and the matter whereof they are composed is beyond our knowledge. For what we call gold and precious stones beside them appear dark and lustreless as charcoal."
From these words we may form some idea of the beauty, the rarity, the costly nature of the stones wherewith the walls of Heaven are built. We gather from them that the light of Heaven is so dazzling as not only to eclipse the sun and stars, but to cause all earthly brightness to appear as darkness. We have besides every reason to believe that in the light of Heaven all the colors of the rainbow are seen to flash, giving it an indescribable charm to the eyes of the blessed. Moreover, the bodies of the redeemed are resplendent with light, and the more Saintly their life on earth has been, the more brilliantly do they shine in Heaven.
What must be the glory of that celestial firmament, glittering with the radiance of many thousand stars! Nothing is more pleasing to the eye than light ; how brilliant, how beautiful must the light of Heaven be since, compared with it, the sun s bright rays are but darkness.
How the redeemed must delight in the contemplation of this clear and dazzling brightness.
O my God, grant me grace that on earth I may love the light and eschew the works of darkness, in order that I may attain to the contemplation of the eternal and perpetual light !
Concerning the size of Heaven all we know is that it is immeasurable, inconceivable, incomprehensible.
A learned Divine, speaking on this subject, says : " If God were to make every grain of sand into a new world, all these innumerable spheres would not fill the immensity of Heaven." St. Bernard also says that we are warranted in the belief that every one of the saved will have a place and an inheritance of no narrow limits assigned him in the celestial country.
How immeasurably vast in extent must Heaven then be ! Well may the prophet Baruch exclaim : " O Israel, how great is the house of God, and how vast is the place of His possession 1 It is great and hath no end ; it is high and immense " (Baruch iii. 24, 25).
We can readily believe this, for we have before our eyes the boundless realms of space. But of the nature of the infinite realms of Heaven we know nothing, and yet we can to some extent picture them to our imagination. It would be against common sense to think that these vast celestial domains are empty and bare, that the great Artificer, to whom the creation of worlds is a very little thing, would leave them unbeautified and unadorned.
If princes and lords fill every space, and leave no corner in their palaces or their grounds unembellished and unadorned, shall we suppose that the great King of Heaven would permit His regal palace, His celestial paradise, to be lacking in magnificence and in beauty ? What would there be to delight the senses of the Saints if Heaven were a large empty space ? What enjoyment, except the beatific vision of God, would there be for them, if they stood all together in a barren plain, like sheep in a penfold ? Are we not justified in believing that there are splendid and spacious mansions in Heaven constructed of incorruptible materials ?
Nay, more, a learned expositor of Holy Scripture considers it probable that by the wondrous skill and wisdom of the great Creator, these fair palaces and dwellings are of varied form and size, some being lower, others higher, some more richly adorned than others. Towering above all, and surpassing all in grandeur and magnificence, the palace of the great King Jesus Christ stands pre-eminent; and next in splendour and dignity ranks the abode of our Sovereign Lady, the Queen of Heaven. Then come the twelve palaces of the twelve apostles, which are so rich and beautiful that Heaven itself marvels at their magnificence. Besides these are mansions and dwellings innumerable which render the heavenly Jerusalem indescribably imposing and attractive. These splendid abodes were created when Heaven itself was made, and destined to be the dwellings of the redeemed.
The Church teaches us, in the office for martyrs, that each one of the elect will have his own place in the kingdom of Heaven. Dabo sanctis meis locum nominatum in regno Patris mei, dicit Dominus. (In 2 noct. Antiph. I. de Com. pi. Martj.) " I will give to My Saints an appointed place in the kingdom of My Father." And the Royal Psalmist says: " The Saints shall rejoice in glory ; they shall be joyful in their beds " (Ps. cxlix. 5).
We have also Christ s words : " Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity ; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings ; " that is to say, spend what you have over and above on works of charity and benevolence, that these may prove as friends to you, who will obtain for you admittance into the eternal and celestial dwellings (Luke xvi. 9).
Again : " In My Father’s house there are many mansions." Hence it may be inferred that each one of the redeemed has his separate abode in Heaven. For as a just and prudent father divides his real and personal property amongst his children, assigning to each one his particular share, so our heavenly Father apportions to each of His elect a part of His celestial treasures, both visible and invisible, giving to each one more or less, according to the amount he deserves to receive.
Who shall describe the majesty and glory of these heavenly mansions? If the kings and princes of this world build grand and costly palaces for themselves, what must be the splendour and beauty of the celestial city which the King of kings has built for Himself and those who love Him and are His friends ? Hear what St. John says concerning this city: "An Angel showed me the holy city Jerusalem, having the glory of God. The light thereof was like to a precious stone, as to the jasper stone, even as crystal. The city itself was of pure gold, like unto glass, and the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones " (Apoc. xxi. u, 18, 19).
Speaking of the size of the city, the same apostle writes : " The Angel that spoke with me had a measure of a reed of gold, to measure the city and the gates thereof, and the wall. And the city lieth in a four-square, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth ; and he measured the city with the golden reed for twelve thousand furlongs, and the height and the breadth thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof an hundred forty-four cubits, the measure of a man, and used by the Angel."
A furlong is two hundred and twenty yards, and eight furlongs make a mile. It must be observed that the Angel did not measure the circumference of the city, but only the length of the wall, which was twelve thousand furlongs. When this is multiplied by four, it gives forty-eight thousand furlongs as the circumference of the city, that is equivalent to six thousand miles. To people a city of this size many thousand millions of inhabitants would be needed.
From the information given by St. John, who tells us that the length, the breadth, and the height of the city are equal, we form some idea of the imposing height of this celestial structure. This city does not constitute the whole of the heavenly Jerusalem, it is the special dwelling place of the most high God, wherein the sacred humanity of Christ abides, together with many companies of Angels and of the most eminent Saints. For besides this august city, there are others innumerable in the heavenly plains, wherein the redeemed dwell in the society of Angels. The more good a Saint has done on earth, the grander is the residence assigned him in Heaven. These palaces and mansions are transparent as crystal and built of precious stones of the costliest kind. And we may add on the authority of a learned theologian, that the blessed hold intercourse with one another, and meet together to laud and magnify the omnipotence of the Most High, who prepared for them such glorious abodes, and join in extolling His wisdom and His love.
Dost thou not, O my soul, feel an intense longing to behold this heavenly city, and, what is more, to dwell therein for evermore ? We esteem it a pleasure to visit a fine city, renowned for its architectural and other attractions ; and many are the travellers who journey all over the world to see foreign towns, and feast their eyes on their beauty. What are these cities of earth in comparison with the celestial cities? Could we but look into it for a few moments only, what wondrous things we should behold ! We should assuredly exclaim, in the words of King David: "How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord; they shall praise thee forever and ever. For better is one day in Thy courts above thousands; I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners" (Ps. Ixxxiii.).
If we may venture to speak of the interior of the celestial realm, we may assume that the vast, immeasurable space of Heaven does not only contain these heavenly cities, but much more besides, all of which enhances the delights of that blissful land. For as kings and princes on earth have gardens and pleasure grounds laid out beside their palaces, where they amuse themselves in the summer season, so, many theologians assert, there are heavenly paradises, that afford increased delight to the blessed.
For not only the souls of the saved, but their glorified bodies also, will be conducted by the Angels of God into Heaven after the Day of Judgment.
St. Augustine, St. Anselm, and many other Saints do not hesitate to maintain that there are in Heaven real trees, real fruits, and real flowers, indescribably attractive and delightful to the sight, taste, smell, and touch, different from anything we can imagine.
In the revelations of the Saints mention is made of the gardens in Heaven, and the flowers that blossom there ; and we know it is recorded in the legend of St. Dorothea, that she sent to Theophilus by the hands of an Angel a basket of flowers culled in the gardens of the celestial paradise, of such surpassing beauty that the sight of them led him to become a Christian, and lay down his life for the faith of Christ.
We also read in the life of St. Didacus, that on coming to himself after a trance into which he fell shortly before his death, he cried aloud : " O what flowers there are in Paradise ! what flowers there are in paradise ! " Similar incidents are frequently to be met with in the legends of the Saints.
Consider how delightful it will be for the happy ones who are saved to wander in the celestial gardens, and contemplate those fair flowers. How pleasing the lovely blossoms are to the eye, how delicious is the fragrance they exhale ! Of a truth, if a man were to obtain possession of a single one of these heavenly flowers, it would produce on him the same effect as on Theophilus. He would be spoiled for all the beauty of earth, and would strive with his whole soul after the perfect beauty of Heaven.
Meditate often, therefore, upon the things of Heaven; raise thy eyes and thy heart to the bright firmament above, and awaken within thy heart by this or other means a keen desire to behold the mansions of the eternal Father, and to dwell in them for evermore.
O God, who hast enriched the heavenly Jerusalem with such beauty in order that we poor children of earth might have a greater longing to behold it, I beseech Thee, inflame my heart with an ardent affection and longing for the celestial abode which Thou hast prepared for us. For blessed are they, O Lord, who dwell in Thy house ; they shall enjoy consummate felicity for evermore, and for evermore they will praise the power, the wisdom, the bounty of our God. Would that I were worthy to be associated with that sinless company, to behold that fair city, to become one of its happy denizens. Grant me this grace, O God, I pray Thee; let me not be excluded from the number of Thine elect.
O blessed Saints of God, you who dwell within the courts of the heavenly Jerusalem, I humbly entreat you to intercede for me, that in His infinite clemency the God of mercy may grant me so to live that I may be found worthy to be admitted to your blissful company.
Hear the prayers of Thy Saints, O most compassionate God, and through the merits of Jesus Christ give me a share in that inheritance which He purchased for us with His precious blood. May the things of this world lose all value in my eyes, and do Thou make my heart to glow with the burning desire to behold Thee and the city that Thou hast built, the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen.